Big W misses the point - the harms of sexual objectification go beyond feeling 'offended'
A shopper wrote a complaint to Big W after spotting a 'Baywatch' branded tshirt in the mens clothing section. Much like the TV program itself, the merchandise sexually objectified women.
Here's the complaint sent early 2012:
I was in your store at Christmas time and was really disappointed to see Big W selling a t-shirt that objectified women. The shirt was 'Baywatch' branded and the focus of the photographic image on front was of a woman's bottom. Unfortunately objectifying women by displaying pornified images on men's shirts is a current trend which is completely unavoidable in the public space. I expected better fromBig W. The shirt is disrespectful to female customers and your female employees. The number of degrading images in the public space and on men's clothing is beyond a joke. A number of stores have been in the spotlight recently for exposing their customers to pornified and degrading images. People have had enough. Please withdraw the Baywatch shirts.
Big W responded:
Many thanks for taking time to contact Big W, we value your time and efforts,
I am sorry to hear that you were offended by the Baywatch t-shirt, I would like to let you know that we do our absolute best to ensure that we only sell family appropriate merchandise, and I am sorry to hear that this piece has caused you some distress,
We will take your comments onboard going forward.
Once again thank you for taking time to contact us, your feedback is very valuable,
The complainant pressed Big W further:
Thanks for your response.
My feelings about the shirt are actually irrelevant. Whether I'm distressed, offended, or love the shirt, it still objectifies women. You're still selling a shirt that when worn in the public space, exposes others to images of objectified women. Images such as this one used to be reserved for girlie pin up calendars or sleazy mags such as Zoo and Picture magazine, which incidentally, if displayed in your staff room would amount to sexual harassment.
The only way to ensure that you sell family appropriate merchandise is to withdraw these items immediately. I assume from your response that you're unwilling to do this? I notice at the bottom of your email it says 'Please consider the environment before printing this email.' I would be delighted if Big W would consider the cultural environment for women and girls before stocking items that objectify women or refusing to withdraw those items that have clearly crossed the line.
Big W can do much better than this.
Another Big W representative - a merchandise manager - responded to say Big W would not be withdrawing the shirts but would not be ordering more once these had sold out. Here's the message in part:
The official Baywatch range is stocked in a number of Australian retailers as well as BIG W. We chose to stock a number of the clothing products linked to the show because of the high level of positive customer recognition of the brand. Baywatch is popular with many of our shoppers and,, by some accounts, is the most watched global TV show of all time.
I have viewed the design of the T shirt in question to and I do understand your concern. However, I re-iterate that there was no intention to offend.
I can confirm, however, that we have no plans to sell further Baywatch clothing products after the current stock is exhausted. I have also taken the opportunity to discuss this matter with the buying team and I have instructed them to always be mindful of customer sentiments when it comes to the images portrayed on all of our products.
I hope this reassures you that your comments have been taken on board and I hope that you will continue to shop with us at BIG W.
The complainant responded once again in part:
I appreciate your taking the time to discuss this with me. I realise that we may end up 'agreeing to disagree' but I just wanted to address a few of the points you made in your latest correspondence.
Whether the shirt is Baywatch branded or not, is not really the point. The very prominent image on this shirt is of a woman's backside. You're selling a shirt that features a woman's ass on the front and you're displaying it in store. The shirt objectifies women and while objectification may indeed be popular right now, (indicated by the number of degrading shirts I see worn by men in public) it is irresponsible for Big W to contribute to this problem.
I'm really surprised to see Big W going down this road. When I saw the shirt in store I thought "you have got to be kidding me...not Big W too."
...again, it's not about an individual's personal feelings of offence, it's about objectifying women and contributing to the problem of sexist and degrading images plastering the public space. Some people may love degrading shirts like this - there is obviously a market for it - but their love of the product does not change the fact that the images objectify women. This sends a harmful message to girls that their value is determined by the sum of their body parts and also a harmful message to boys who learn to view women as sexual objects.
Thanks for passing on my comments to your buying team. Perhaps you could let them know that if images aren't suitable for the wall of your staffroom, they're not suitable for your shop floor either.
Many thanks again for the opportunity to have this discussion.